03 January 2020

No war in the land of Esther, redux

Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdî al-Muhandis

Today at one in the morning local time, the United States government has ordered the drone strikes which have assassinated Major General Qasem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force and Abu Mahdî al-Muhandis of the Hizbullâh Brigades as they were travelling in a convoy at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. This is an act of wanton and unprovoked aggression against not only Iran but also the legitimate government in Iraq, and it pushes us closer to yet another open-ended boots-on-the-ground war in the Middle East, one which I have taken pains to speak out against on this blog for the past eight years and more.

Major General Soleimani was perhaps the sole person who, more than any other single figure in the region let alone any of the major players there, did the most to oppose, fight and clear the ground of Dâ‘iš in Iraq. He was a strategic master when it came to marshalling a broad coalition of small players – many of whom did not get along with each other – toward a broader goal in the defeat of the ‘Islamic’ State. The actions of Major General Soleimani may well have saved the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the living stones of the region – the Armenian, Assyrian and Arab Christians of the Fertile Crescent who have been worshipping there for over one and a half millennia, long before the advent of Islâm. Make no mistake, the local Christians are not at all happy with Soleimani’s death. These Christians have already been aligned with Hizbullâh for the past five years, and our reckless action has once again put them in mortal danger.

Not to mention that Soleimani and the government he represented were, in the purely-functional terms represented by the task of ridding the Middle East of Dâ‘iš, our ally – whom our government basically just stabbed in the back. And it did so in such a gratuitous manner, bombing him in the middle of Iraq’s busiest civilian airport, that they’ve basically made him into a martyr for the cause for most sane people in Iraq and Iran – not to mention in Syria and among the Yemeni Houthis.

These personal accomplishments of Soleimani solidly underscore the fact that Iraq and Iran together have played the single most important rôle in defeating Dâ‘iš in the entirety of the latter’s sordid and miserable existence. Iran’s government has not been responsible for any terrorism aimed at American civilians or government since the 1980s – or any other Western country for that matter. In fact, Iran has not launched a single offensive war against another country in living memory; the war with Iraq in the 1980s seems to be long put past. Hizbullâh, the same: they have been a legitimate political party in Lebanon for this length of time and have not attacked American people or interests for over thirty years. These are all truth – expect them all to come under attack from the centre and from the right over the next news cycle as the war drums begin to beat louder.

The usual neocon ghouls, of course, are licking their chops with glee over this. It looks like the exact wrong people have once again gotten their hooks into a gormless, gutless, spineless president who wouldn’t know right from wrong if they slapped him in the face. (There is quite a lot of bitter irony here in reading back over tweets from 2016.) But by attacking and killing one of the most celebrated anti-Dâ‘iš generals in the Fertile Crescent, alongside one of Iraq’s commanders, in the middle of a civilian airfield, they’ve destroyed any last scrap or vestige of goodwill we might have had from the Iraqi people otherwise for our presence there. Iraq’s civilian authorities are basically already telling us to get out.

As far as the presidential contenders on the other side are concerned, preventing a war with Iran has again just shot to the top of the priority list, and we need to be listening very carefully to how they react. So far, the results have been predictable. Only Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard have had the moral clarity and fortitude to stand up and say this was wrong, without qualifications – while Joe Biden and Liz Warren have notably not done so. Once again now, all together. No war in the land of Esther. No war in the land of Mordechai. No war in the land of Daniel. This needs to be the fervent prayer of all Christians of goodwill, everywhere; and not least among the Orthodox Christians whose families and friends once again lie in the crosshairs.

UPDATE (5 Jan): Over 700 people, including yours truly, turned out in Minneapolis yesterday on a bright but brisk Saturday afternoon, to stage an impromptu demonstration against the Baghdad Airport bombing as part of a national effort spearheaded by the ANSWER Coalition. The swift and effective coördination of this event was thanks to the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition, the Anti-War Committee, Women Against Military Madness, Veterans for Peace and the National Iranian American Council. Members of the Teamsters Local 120, Minnesota Nurses Association, the Twin Cities chapter of the DSA, the Catholic Worker Movement and the Simone Weil Centre were in attendance.

The attendance numbers and the organisational breadth of the event both indicate a significant jump forward for the anti-war movement locally. I’m unfortunately too well aware that the committed core of the activists there belong to the mix of libertarians, socialists, vets, immigrant-rights activists and Christian radicals that have kept the anti-war movement alive through the Obama years. I’m also aware that a non-zero part of the turnout here was motivated as much by anti-Trump sentiment as it was by any principled opposition to military adventurism or any stand in favour of foreign-policy realism. Still, the forward momentum is a good thing; we need to keep it up and we need to encourage more such actions. Hopefully we can get more of the political mainstream on board. The stakes are high enough.

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